Nurturing with Nature
One generation from now, most people in the U.S. will have spent more time in the virtual world of electronic devices than in the nature, according to filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei.
Currently the average American child can name hundreds of corporate logos but fewer than 10 native plants.
Distressed by this trend, Schei set out with her camera to investigate. She spoke with youngsters about their digital obsessions and brought them a wilderness adventure—unplugged from it all.
The result is “Play Again,” an award-winning documentary that Duke Gardens will present Sept. 15 at dusk (around 8 p.m.) as part of the Movies in the Gardens at Twilight free movie series on the lawn behind the Doris Duke Center.
Through the voices of these children and leading experts, “Play Again” investigates the consequences of a childhood removed from nature and encourages action for a sustainable future. Thursday’s viewing is a co-production with Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
Schei discussed the film with Duke Gardens’ Flora magazine in an e-mail conversation.
What triggered this project?
The idea for the film started in 2005, when I came across a study that showed that kids today can recognize more than 100 corporate logos and fewer than 10 plants in their own back yards. This is very concerning to me, and I think there are serious consequences to kids growing up removed from nature.
Was your own childhood nature-centered?
I grew up in Norway, roaming in the woods all year ‘round. Rain, snow, sleet—you name it, we were outside. This is a stark contrast to how my children are growing up. I would be lost without nature. It is where I find meaning and inspiration. It is where I find perspective and peace. To me the issues of “Play Again” are at the core of who we are, why we are here and where we are going.
Were there any surprises for you in what transpired with the children?
I was very impressed and moved by the transitions the teens went through during the film. Something strong happens when you swim in a river, hike and dig in the dirt for the first time. For some it was very stressful to be outside and active, and some felt lonelier being with a small group of people rather than in front of their computers with their gaming and Myspace communities.
Was there one activity outdoors that had a particularly strong effect on them?
I think swimming in the river for the first time had a strong impact on many of the teens. Starting a fire from scratch and making their own bow and arrow were some of their other favorite activities.
Do you think most children have an innate connection with nature and they only need exposure, or does nature appreciation typically need to be taught to a child?
I do think that people need nature. It is who we are and where we come from. And I think that in our virtual-media-immersed culture we as adults and parents need to think about how we introduce nature to our children—and how we prioritize our time. We are so busy, and we tend to schedule all of our children's time with activities and "enhancements." It is hard to make it out to nature in our daily lives. I think we need to take a hard look at how we live and spend our time. When we do go outside with our kids, I think it is crucial that we inspire the sense of wonder, which very often just comes from playing and discovering our natural surroundings.
What do you think public gardens or parks ought to consider with regard to children’s relationship with nature?
Too often to we think of nature as wilderness and an exclusive activity. Nature is all around. Our backyards, our neighborhoods and parks. I do think it is crucial that we find and reclaim natural places where we allow our children to play freely.
Have you followed up with the children in the film?
Yes. We have become very close to the teens in the film, and many of them travel with the film and speak on these issues publicly. We are very proud of them; they are amazing kids and great spokespeople for their generation.
What did you hope to achieve with “Play Again”?
In making this film, it was crucial for us to learn about these issues from the children, to understand where they are coming from and what they are up against, and most importantly to give them a voice through “Play Again.” With “Play Again,” we want to put these issues on the forefront of people's minds, start discussions and encourage change. The film asks important questions and offers solutions to this issue that aim to encourage our audience to action for a sustainable future.
INFO: For more information on the film, and a trailer, please go to http://playagainfilm.com. For information on parking and other logistics, please see Duke Gardens' film page.